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NECO Celebrates Student Achievement at 2017 Visionaries Event

Students, faculty, and staff from throughout New England College of Optometry came together on April 20, 2017 for 15th Annual “Visionaries: A Day of Student Achievement.” This yearly event celebrated student learning and showcased student achievement through posters, presentations, and competitions from students in the OD1, OD2, and OD3 classes.

In 2017, Visionaries Day took on a global health theme to highlight NECO’s commitment to international public health care and share with students the large-scale impact of the optometry profession. Several international non-government organizations (NGOs) came together to present their global health impact with displays comprising of videos, mapping and posters. 

The NGOs, including Orbis International, OneSight, Brien Holden Vision Institute, Optometry Giving Sight, VOSH, VisionSpring and Vision Aid Overseas, have each taken on the challenge of reducing the global burden of uncorrected refractive error. By sharing their goals, work and opportunities for optometrists within their organizations, students were inspired to begin seeking out public health opportunities as graduates in both voluntary and paid capacities.

In the hope of mapping out the impact of the current NECO community, the global heath displays in the College rotunda included a large map of the world where students, clinicians and faculty were invited to place a pin in the regions where they had provided voluntary optometric services.

Adjunct Professor Sarah Wassnig, BOptom (OcTher), MPH, explained, “NECO practitioners and students across the country emailed in their international projects to be included. The resulting map displayed our community efforts grandly, with over two hundred pins in more than 50 countries, spanning from Hawaii to New Zealand.”

First Year Public Health Posters

One highlight of the day centered on the public health posters created by the OD1 class.  Their presentations focused on public health issues chosen as part of the curriculum for the Public Health course.  Each group chose one topic related to public health, and then conducted research and interviews as they theorized and drew conclusions about their topic.  Their findings were presented to the community, as well as to a panel of judges, in the form of a research poster in the library and first floor atrium.

This year’s judges, Jay Gardiner, MA Society of ODs, and Lisa Flynn, National Preparedness Leadership Institute, evaluated each poster and presentation on specific criteria. Separate awards were given by a panel of students in the AODP and ASIP special programs.  All winners were encourage to submit their posters to the American Academy of Optometry for presentation at the AAO’s annual meeting and are eligible for $1,000 travel grant.

This year, the topics included online eye exams, concussion screenings in organized youth sports, dry eye, the effects of screen time, optometric care in juvenile detention centers, and accommodations in eye exams for patients with autism.  View the full repository of student posters with audio descriptions.   

The 2017 winning posters were: 

  • 1st place: The Eye in Autism: Adaptive Optometric Techniques to Improve Care for Patients with Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • 2nd place: Screening for Visual Impairments in Children: Educating Teachers and School Nurses to Screen for Visual Impairments
  • 3rd place: Effects of Screen Time: Are Patients Aware?
  • Honorable Mention: Eyes on the Road: Do Vision Loopholes Cause More Accidents?
  • Honorable Mention: Alternative Methods of Re-Wetting Contact Lenses

In addition to winning first place in the competition, members of the winning “The Eye in Autism” poster also received the AAO Student Travel Award from the NECO Student AAO club. This travel award is a $1000 stipend for the group to split to defray costs for attending the AAO meeting in Chicago if their poster is accepted.

Professor Diane Russo, OD, noted, “2017 marked another successful year for Visionaries' Day. It was a chance for our students to showcase the projects they've been working on to their classmates, faculty, staff, guest speakers and judges, and the NECO community as a whole. I continue to be impressed by the diligence and professionalism our students exhibit on this day and throughout the year.”

Second Year Presentation: Dr. Danny Haddad, ORBIS

Carrying on the 2017 Visionaries theme of global health, Dr. Danny Haddad, Chief of Programs at Orbis International, spoke with second year students about taking on exciting global health opportunities and, in turn, discovering the rewarding impact of international public health care. Orbis International programs help build sustainable eye care services with hands-on training in developing regions, to strengthen the skills and resources necessary to deliver quality ocular surgical care. In his current position at Orbis International, Dr. Haddad is responsible for the organization’s global program portfolio, including program vision, strategy and implementation.

Over the course of his career, Dr. Haddad has worked in over 50 countries as a practitioner, equipment specialist, advocate, program manager and policymaker. As a result, he is considered an expert in the field of prevention of blindness caused by tropical diseases and is held in high regard by the global health community. Dr. Haddad discussed his journey from medical school in the Netherlands to his role at Orbis International, while enlightening second year students on the global health goals to eliminate the devastating ocular conditions resulting from trachoma and onchoerciasis. In outlining his career path, Dr. Haddad expressed his gratitude in taking the path less travelled and, now looking back, the enormous global health impact these opportunities allowed him to have. Inspiring our students to take exciting career opportunities, Dr. Haddad shared the lessons learned over his career, including being open to opportunity, embracing adversity, working within cultural structures, and, most importantly, enjoying life outside of work.

Third Year Business Plan Competition

The third year class gathered in LH-3 to support  the business plan competition. The culmination of Dr. David Mill’s Ophthalmic Business Management Course, the top five teams of student finalists competed for a $1500 cash prize from Essilor of America.  The groups presented their business plans to a panel of judges from the community. This year’s panel included Stephen Shawler from Essilor, Anne Zettek-Sumner from UMass and Barry Mills from UMass.

In their presentations, the teams discussed the location they chose for their practice, variables that impacted their business (location, local competition, various populations, nearby schools or senior centers), their chosen staff, business goals, business mission, internal and external marketing efforts, and their financial status and consideration. Through the presentations, teams hoped to convey their strategy for maintaining and growing their businesses and to make a case for a specific loan request.  Participating in these group business plans, students gain knowledge, skill, and background in how to manage an ophthalmic business in all eye and health care delivery systems.   The winning team, Beacon Street Optometry, was praised for the thoroughness of their plan in relation to location, social media, online presence, and services. ​President Scott noted, “The business plans are the culmination of the work begun in the first year when students do a community analysis and assess a community's specific needs for eyecare services.  As students progress through their studies, they consider how health care providers provide access to care, and consider this thoughtfully as they prepare their mock business plans.”

In addition to the Business Plan Competition, Steven Shawler awarded a student group the Sabre Cup for their work with the business simulator. Throughout the process, each group creates a mock practice and makes business decisions to manage their practice through a simulated optometric business during the semester. The course involves using a cloud-based simulator developed by Dr. Mills, Cam Tipping, and Essilor developers. Throughout the semester, students learn about the challenges facing optometrists and the strategies they can employ to be successful.    Read more about Dr. Mill’s innovative business course.